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Nov 19, 2021

A Tribute to John W. Pegg

John Clark Pegg, Minneapolis, MN, November 19th, 2021

I am grateful for the outstanding work done by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy over the years in the courts, in the legislature, and in our communities.  I am grateful because I have a profound respect for the law as the foundation for a democratic society and I have had a life-long commitment to social justice, based on the core values that my father taught me.

My father was John William Pegg, born into a poor family in 1910 in Missouri and raised there and in northern Florida.  Through his own efforts, my father was educated as a lawyer at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1931. While at the University he married my mother, Ellen McCance Pegg, when they both were students. Upon graduation, he became a member of the Order of the Coif at age 21and took a position as clerk to the Presiding Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis.  John W. Pegg was a bright and capable young lawyer who held certain core values which he passed on to me.  

First and foremost was respect for the law as the foundation of our society; where all people are entitled to the same rights under the law regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what their beliefs and cultural practices may be.

He also believed that those who have been given much have a responsibility to care for those who are more vulnerable and to advocate for their rights and well-being.  Though he spent a good part of his youth in the Deep South, my father deeply believed in the equality of all human beings and taught me that prejudice and racism are a perversion of that equality and not to be tolerated. I remember as a boy sitting at the dinner table and learning about the Scopes Trial (State of Tennessee v. John T. Scopes).  I also remember, in 1954, our family celebrating the Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.

Lastly, my father taught me to strive to always speak the truth and to stand up for what I believe in, a value that I believe is increasingly important as our nation and world face unprecedented societal challenges.

It was in the midst of the Great Depression that my father began his practice as a fledgling lawyer, and so when he was offered a secure position with the legal department of Shell Oil Company in 1937, he took it to provide for his young family.  He quickly gained a reputation as someone who not only had a keen knowledge of the law, but also as someone who was aware of the bigger picture and strove to accomplish the common good.  In an article written about him in the company magazine in 1946, he was quoted as saying, “It’s too bad when someone gets so wrapped up in the technicalities that [s]he loses sight of the law itself.  Let’s be practical; let’s find the answer that is both legal and fair.”

He went on to become manager of the Shell Legal Department and in 1951 was named Vice President of Shell Development Corporation.  As a lawyer, my father always wanted to work for the common good. He was deeply troubled by the work he was doing and, as a result of that inner conflict and his lifestyle, he suffered a heart attack on a business trip and died in 1955 at age 45, when I had just turned 13 years of age.

So, I remember clearly his heart of compassion, his strong belief in justice for all under the law, and his vision and hope for a better world.  I am grateful to honor him by helping to fund the John W. Pegg Legal Fellow position to encourage new lawyers to practice public interest law.  I also am honored to support the excellent work being done by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.